Manufacturing of Electronic Textile | Construction of E-Textiles


Sikander Anwer
Department in Textile Engineering
University of Management & Technology, Lahore, Pakistan
Cell: 0322-4875571

At the end of the 19th century, as people developed and grew accustomed to electronic appliances, designers and engineers began to combine electricity with clothing and jewelry developing a series of illuminated and motorized necklaces, hats, broaches and costumes. For example, in the late 1800s, a person could hire young women adorned in light-studded evening gowns from the Electric Girl Lighting Company to provide cocktail party entertainment.

In 1968, the Museum of Contemporary Craft in New York City held a groundbreaking exhibition called Body Covering that focused on the relationship between technology and apparel. The show featured astronauts’ space suits along with clothing that could inflate and deflate, light up, and heat and cool itself. Particularly noteworthy in this collection was the work of Diana Dew, a designer who created a line of electronic fashion, including electroluminescent party dresses and belts that could sound alarm sirens.

In the mid 1990s a team of MIT researchers led by Steve Mann, Thad Starner, and Sandy Pentland began to develop what they termed wearable computers. These devices consisted of traditional computer hardware attached to and carried on the body. In response to technical, social, and design challenges faced by these researchers, another group at MIT, that included Maggie Orth and Rehmi Post, began to explore how such devices might be more gracefully integrated into clothing and other soft substrates. Among other developments, this team explored integrating digital electronics with conductive fabrics and developed a method for embroidering electronic circuits.

An electronic textile is a fabric that can conduct electricity. If it is combined with electronic components it can sense changes in its environment and respond by giving off light, sound or radio waves.. Electronic textiles (e-textiles) are fabrics that have electronics and interconnections woven into them. Components and interconnections are a part of the fabric and thus are much less visible and, more importantly, not susceptible to becoming tangled together or snagged by the surroundings. An electronic textile refers to a textile substrate that incorporates capabilities for sensing (biometric or external), communication (usually wireless), power transmission, and interconnection technology to allow sensors or things such as information processing devices to be networked together within a fabric. Electronic textiles allow little bits of computation to occur on the body. They usually contain conductive yarns that are either spun or twisted and incorporate some amount of conductive material (such as strands of silver or stainless steel) to enable electrical conductivity.

E-textiles, also known as electronic textiles or smart textiles, are fabrics that enable digital components (including small computers), and electronics to be embedded in them.

  1. Flexible
  2. No wires to snag environment
  3. Large surface area for sensing
  4. Invisible to others
  5. Cheap manufacturing
  6. Permeability
  7. Strength
  8. Thermal Resistance
  9. Electrical resistance
The field of e-textiles can be divided into two main types:
  • E-textiles with classical electronic devices such as conductors, integrated circuits, LEDs, and conventional batteries embedded into garments. 
  • E-textiles with electronics integrated directly into the textile substrates. This can include either passive electronics such as conductors and resistors or active components like transistors, diodes, and solar cells.
Most research and commercial e-textile projects are hybrids where electronic components embedded in the textile are connected to classical electronic devices or components. Some examples are touch buttons that are constructed completely in textile forms by using conducting textile weaves, which are then connected to devices such as music players or LEDs that are mounted on woven conducting fiber networks to form displays. Printed sensors for both physiological and environmental monitoring have been integrated into textiles including cotton, Gore-Tex, and neoprene.


Manufacturing of E-Textiles:
A thread can be made to conduct electricity by either coating it with metals like copper or silver. It can also be made conductive by combining cotton or nylon fibers with metal fibers when it is spun.

Inputs for E-Textiles:
To obtain information for wearable devices components such as sensors are often used, for instance, environmental sensors, antennas, global positioning system receivers, sound sensors and cameras. Such sensors can be divided on active and passive (Langenhove & Hertleer, 2004)(Seymour, 2009). Active inputs are controlled by a user via a tactile or acoustic feedback system, which provides an intuitive interaction with the garment. Passive inputs collect biometric data from the human body as well as environmental data collected via wireless transmission system.

Construction of E-Textiles:

  • Lily Pad Arduino
  • Fabric kit.
  • Aniomagic
  • Flora
1. Conductive fabrics and textiles are plated or woven with metallic elements such as silver, nickel, tin, copper, and aluminum these are: electro-nylon, electr-onylon nickel, clear-mesh, soft-mesh, electro-lycra and steel-cloth. All these textiles show amazing electrical properties, with low surface resistance15, which can be used for making flexible and soft electrical circuits within garments or other products, pressure and position-sensing systems. They are lightweight, flexible, durable, soft and washable (some) and can be sewn like traditional textiles, which makes them a great replacement for wires in computational garments.

2. Conductive threads and yarns have a similar purpose to wires and that is to create conductive paths from one point to another. However, unlike wires they are flexible and can be sewn, woven or embroidered onto textile, allowing for soft circuits to be created. Conductive threads and yarns offer alternative ways of connecting electronics on soft and flexible textiles medium as well offering traditional textile manufacturing techniques for creating computational garments.
Conductive threads
3. Conductive coatings are used to convert traditional textiles into electrically conductive materials. The coatings can be applied to different types of traditional fibers, yarns and fabrics, without changing their flexibility, density and handling.

4. Conductive ink is an ink that conducts electricity, providing new ways of printing or drawing circuits. This special ink can be applied to textile and other substrates. Conductive inks contain powdered metals such as carbon, copper or silver mixed with traditional inks.

Other materials are:
  • Shape memory alloys (SMA or muscle wire)
  • Piezoelectric materials
  • Chromic materials
  • Photo-chromic (inks and dyes)
  • Thermo-chromic inks
  • Nano-materials and microfibers
Some of the most advanced functions that have been demonstrated in the lab include:
  • Organic fiber transistors: The first textile fiber transistor that is completely compatible with textile manufacturing and that contains no metals at all.
  • Organic solar cells on fibers
The use of fabric as station to deploy electrical components results in wearable electrical/ computing devices.


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